“David and Peggy Sokol hosted us in Montana for a ranch visit and tour of Yellowstone,” the Thomases said in the letter, which was reviewed by The Times. The Thomases brought their dog, Petey, who played with the Sokols’ dog, Bodie. They wrote: “Bodie showed Petey how to be a ranch dog, off leash! FREEDOM!”

The trip, they concluded, was “pure heaven for all of us!”

The Clarence Thomas origin story begins in a dirt shack in Pin Point, a tiny community founded by formerly enslaved people in the salt marsh lands outside of Savannah.

When he is 20, after a short period in a Catholic seminary, it continues at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he is one of a small group of young blacks who integrate the school. There, in the spring of 1971, his senior year, he receives a letter from Yale Law School. He worries that the thin envelope means rejection. But one of the nation’s most elite law schools wants him.

“My heart raced and my spirit rose,” wrote Judge Thomas in his autobiography.

At Yale, he was one of only 12 Black students in his law school class, admitted the year the law school launched an affirmative action plan. His white classmates looked to him as a sign, he felt — a belief in the corrosive effects of affirmative action that was only deepened by his failure to win the law firm job of his dreams.

“I graduated from one of America’s leading law schools, but racial bias robbed my achievement of its true value,” he later wrote. In particular, he described leaving Yale as a new father, with “a swirling combination of frustration, some disappointments, some fear about the future, and some anxiety about how I was going to pay back my student loans, how I was going to feed a young child, where I was going to live .”

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